Fall is my favorite time of year. I may not like the winter waiting in the wings, except for the rare occasions that snow covers the ground. There is something mystical, though, about that period between when summer takes its last breaths before sliding into hibernation and the bitter winds and rain of winter make their entrance.
Something distinctly different happens on fall days that has nothing to do with the change of leaves, which here in Texas, we get very little of. Can you feel it? Day or, especially, night, something slips in with the cooler air to give a slight sheen to the light of day and the stars at night. I’m sure the scientists would remind me that the gigantic orange orb that hovers just above the horizon doesn’t happen only in autumn. Or is that why it’s called the harvest moon, because that’s the only time you see it? A moon so fleeting that it slips away into ordinary moon-ness in no time.
A dark and starry sky captures best my experience in my last class teaching at the Dallas County jail. We talked life stories and focused on events, happy and sad, that make up that life. We used Deborah Harding’s poem, “How I Knew Harold” which tells the story of a life in events in non-chronological order. As the female prisoners constructed their lives, there were many common themes of taking the wrong course, meeting and hanging out with the wrong people, turning to drugs to self-medicate against difficult situations.
The class wasn’t all seriousness. During the opening activity when each person compares her mood that night to food, one class participant characterized hers as ‘smashed peas.’ By the time she constructed her poem, she shared a hilarious story about her childhood. And another, a 60-year-old, told of her excitement at going to junior high school so she wouldn’t have to see the same 50 boys she’d known since first grade.
Most poignant of all was when a young woman of 27 related how the judge had told her he was giving her one last chance. One last precious chance to turn her life around after many missteps. For that moment, she seemed to value that chance and planned not to waste it. One bright star in the darkness. One moment of possible transition between the bleak and a sunny day.
I see those stories, happy and sad, as points of light, like the stars overhead when I left the jail a free woman, able to drive into the evening and go anywhere I pleased. Able to stand outside and breathe in the air of the in-between place of fall. Enjoying the different feel of it without exactly knowing why that was so.